In even the most cosmopolitan and urban legal settings (not to speak of remote rural courthouses), judges know lawyers and lawyers know judges. Personally. They are former partners. They are former colleagues. They are spouse’s class-mates. They are parents of kids’ friends. They attend the same places of worship. They are humans with similar socio-economic backgrounds and they do their jobs around one another for decades.
There’s no stopping mingling. But lawyers and judges need to be very thoughtful as to how they interrelate and interact with one another to preserve the integrity of the legal system and, as important, the appearance of integrity.
If you happen to see the judge in your civil case yucking it up at a bar or restaurant with the lawyer for your adversary, rightly or wrongly, will you be able to avoid the sense that “the fix is in”?
So, here’s the question, are lawyers barred by ethics rules from even saying they have (or at one time had) a personal friendship with a judge?
Context is everything. In fact, under certain circumstances, there could be a duty to disclose, and not a prohibition.
But here’s what NOT to do: do not have your friend the judge e-mail you some kind of over-the-top encomium and then broadcast that “endorsement” widely to lawyers and potential clients.
Do I have to explain why this is a bad idea?
Attorney Edward R. Reines might be an extraordinary lawyer and U.S. Federal Circuit Chief Judge Randall R. Rader was undoubtedly a beloved friend of Reines’ who admired Reines’ legal skills highly. But, based on the facts set out in the linked discipline decision against Reines, it seems clear that Reines was exploiting his personal connection with a sitting judge to parlay that close personal relationship into money. Reines got in trouble for it and it was right that he did.
To me, here is one of the most important parts of this story: Mr. Reines is a Silicon Valley partner of the Weil Gotshal & Manges law firm. For those of you who do not follow U.S. law firms like some kind of professional sports league, Reines is a rockstar at one of the world’s most famous law firms. Reines is the equivalent of a pitching ace for the Yankees. It seems breathtaking to me that he would stoop to such marketing tactics. I would have thought that there must be a level of accomplishment beyond which one no longer has to market.
[I acknowledge learning of this decision through Reuters West Coast legal reporter, Dan Levine (twitter: @FedcourtJunkie). If you’re not following Levine, you might want to.]